March 22, 2008
DENVER (AP) - In a clash of styles, this one was no contest.
Washington State shut down Notre Dame's high-flying Fighting Irish in a 61-41 stunner in the second round of the East Regional on Saturday night, slowing the pace and all but shutting down the Big East's Player of the Year.
The Cougars (26-8) held Luke Harangody to 10 points - half his average - on 3-of-17 shooting, and limited the Irish to half of their scoring average in advancing to the round of 16 in Charlotte and a regional semifinal game with North Carolina or Arkansas.
The only other time the Cougars won twice in the NCAA tournament was back in 1941, when they advanced to the national championship, losing to Wisconsin 39-34.
Fifth-seeded Notre Dame (25-8) averaged 80.6 points, and Washington State allowed 80 points just once all season.
The Irish watched Washington State hold Winthrop to four second-half baskets and 40 points total in the first round 48 hours earlier, but surely they'd do better than the Eagles, right?
They had Harangody, who averages a double-double, after all, and Kyle McAlarney, who has one of the sweetest 3-point shots in the nation.
Well, the Irish managed seven first-half baskets and six in the second half. They were outscored 2-0 on fastbreak points, 24-12 in the paint and went 3-for-17 from beyond the arc.
"They imposed their will on us," Irish coach Mike Brey submitted.
The Irish hadn't been dominated on defense this badly since losing a 40-36 snail-biter to Northwestern on Dec. 7, 1983.
"In this tournament, we have to play solid defense to be competitive and to be in games and advance," Cougars forward Robbie Cowgill said. "Coach has been telling us all year, that's got to be our ticket. We know that has to be our bread and butter if we're going to do well in this tournament."
Do well? The Irish think they might do better than that.
"They could go all the way," McAlarney suggested. "We were one of the best offensive teams in the country coming into this tournament. The way they played us tonight, it just shows the rest of the country how good they really are. I feel like they can go all the way. I know we'll be rooting for them."
Derrick Low scored 18 points, Kyle Weaver had 15 and Cowgill chipped in 12 for the fourth-seeded Cougars, whose coach, Tony Bennett, embraced his father, Dick, in the stands afterward. Bennett is 52-16 since taking over from his father last year.
"He deserves so much credit," Tony Bennett said. "He started this thing, installed the system."
Two years removed from a last-place finish in the Pac-10, the Cougars are headed for the round of 16.
"This is what we dream about," Weaver said. "This is what we've been working for. We put in the time, the blood, the sweat and tears, and it's starting to pay off."
Harangody got his usual double-double, his 19th of the season, by pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds, but he had to work extra hard for everything he got and he was flustered on the offensive end - double-teamed, banged and bumped every time he got his hands on the ball.
"I kind of feel like I let the guys down," Harangody said. "You know, just wasn't my night."
Despite falling behind 5-0, the Cougars jumped out to a 17-7 lead in the first 10 minutes and were hardly ever threatened, taking a 32-19 lead into the locker room and stretching the advantage to 61-39 in the final minute.
"The knockout punch came early," said Brey, whose 49th birthday celebration was ruined.
What's the secret to shutting down teams in the tournament like the Cougars have?
"Oh, man, what is it that we do?" Weaver replied. "I don't think we have any trickery or any magic that we come out with, no secret power. There's no secret. We play our pack defense, try to keep the ball out of the paint, make the opposing team shoot tough shots."
Cowgill said the key was getting back before the Fighting Irish could get downcourt.
"They love to run. They want to score in the 80s. They want to push the ball and take quick shots, open 3s early," Cowgill said. "So we knew if we had a chance at this game, we were going to have to get back and make them play halfcourt offense against our set halfcourt D."
Making back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, the Cougars tied their school record for wins, set in 1940-41 and matched last year. That trip to the tournament ended with a dynamite double-overtime loss to Vanderbilt in the second round.
The Fighting Irish had one run in them after halftime, using a 9-0 spurt to pull to 38-31 on McAlarney's 3-pointer. Low replied with consecutive baskets and just as quickly as the Fighting Irish had breathed life into their fans at the Pepsi Center, the Cougars quieted the large and stunned Notre Dame contingent.
"We grind teams down with our defense and once we go on offense, we grind them on offense," said Cougars point guard Taylor Rochestie. "When we play defense like we did, we frustrate teams. They were frustrated. I knew that because they weren't taking the shots they wanted."